Surya

Surya in the Mahabharata

- October 31, 2023


By Srinidhi Murthy

It is a well-known fact that Surya was the father of Karna. But did you know that Surya also helped the Pandavas in their times of distress? Read more to know how the Sun God played a vital role in shaping the Mahabharata.

The Divine Gift 
Karna and Kunti
Illustration: Ram Waeerkar; Script: Kamala Chandrakant

Princess Kunti was the adopted daughter of King Kuntibhoja. Upon her father’s orders, Kunti diligently served Sage Durvasa for a year. Pleased with her service, Durvasa gave Kunti a boon. According to that boon, Kunti could summon any god of her choice and would be blessed with a son from that god. As soon as Durvasa left, the young princess decided to test the boon and summoned Surya. But when Surya said she would get a son as she desired, Kunti panicked. She was unmarried and requested Surya to return to his abode. But Surya would bound by the power of the boon and could not return. He blessed Kunti with a son, Karna. The Sun God also gave divine gifts to Karna in the form of kavacha (armour) and kundala (earrings).  

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The Akshaya Patra 
Surya
Illustration: Pratap Mulick; Script: Kamala Chandrakant

The Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi, were worried about feeding the sages who accompanied them during their twelve-year exile. Sage Dhaumya suggested to Yudhishthira that he pray to Surya, as he was the provider of food for all creatures. Heeding this advice, Yudhishthira stood in the waters of Ganga, facing the sun, and prayed to Surya, consuming nothing but air for several days. He prayed for Surya to bestow food upon them all. Pleased by his devotion, Surya appeared before him and gave Yudhishthira the Akshaya Patra. The Akshaya Patra, a copper plate, was an inexhaustible source of food. According to Surya’s boon, it would remain full of food until Draupadi ate from it. Surya also blessed Yudhishthira, assuring him that his kingdom would be restored to him at the end of his exile. With Surya’s gift, the Pandavas and Draupadi were able to provide food to their guests for years without any hurdles. 

The Warning 

During the exile of the Pandavas, Indra became worried about the safety of his son, Arjuna. If Duryodhana refused to give the Pandavas their kingdom after the exile, a war seemed inevitable. This meant that Arjuna would have to face Karna, who had protection from his divine armour and earrings. He devised a plan to deprive Karna of his protection. Surya came to know about Indra’s plan and warned his son, Karna about Indra’s intentions, in his dream. Surya cautioned Karna that Indra would try to take advantage of his generosity to try to get him to part with his gifts. 

Surya and Karna
Illustration: Ram Waeerkar; Script: Kamala Chandrakant

The next day, Indra approached Karna in disguise as a poor Brahmin. Indra told Karna that he had come to ask for the latter’s kavacha and kundalas, since he was known for never refusing someone in need.  Despite Surya’s warning, Karna donated his kavacha and kundalas to Indra. However, he told Indra that he was aware of the god’s plan and disguise. But he would never refuse anyone even if it ended up costing him his life. Pleased by his generosity, Indra gifted Karna a powerful weapon, Shakti, but added that it could only be used once.  

To the Rescue of Draupadi 

During their thirteenth and last year of exile, the Pandavas and Draupadi secured places in the palace of King Virata, in their respective disguises. Draupadi, under the name Sairandhri, entered into the service of Queen Sudeshna. One day, Keechaka, the queen’s brother, saw Draupadi and was immediately smitten by her. He approached Draupadi and said that he would be her slave if she agreed to be with him. Draupadi rejected his proposal and replied that she was married to five mighty Gandharvas, who would kill him if they knew about his inappropriate proposal.  Despite her rejection, Keechaka went to his sister and asked for her help in convincing Sairandhri. After a lot of persuasion, Sudeshna agreed to help him.

The next day, Sudeshna sent Draupadi to fetch wine from Keechaka, despite her protests. Draupadi prayed to Lord Surya for protection. Lord Surya immediately sent a rakshasa and ordered him to protect Draupadi invisibly all the time. When Draupadi entered Keechaka’s chambers, he tried to hold her hand by force. Draupadi pushed him to the ground and rushed to Virata’s court. Keechaka came after her and kicked Draupadi in anger in the presence of all. Immediately, the invisible rakshasa, appointed by Surya, gave Keechaka a mighty blow and he fell down unconscious. Surya thus protected Draupadi during her time of distress during her exile. 

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